I did not expect anything other than a beast of a race this UTMB to be. After all 170km (or 100 miles) with 10,000m of elevation gain and loss is something I have never done before. I was confident though I am fit enough to complete it under normal circumstances – that is if nothing went wrong. My main worries ahead of UTMB were injury before or during the race and bad weather (especially thunderstorms). The biggest unknown that I could not really prepare for was the second consecutive night on the trails.
My training went mostly according to the plan and without any issues. But then just 2 weeks before the race when I was already in taper mode my achilles started to hurt. I suspect it was result of using my day shoes for way too long. I should probably start tracking my walking shoes mileage too. The pain was quite bad and I was a bit concerned. My taper turned into total rest. This helped a bit. Then while on holiday in Slovakia I spent few hours in thermal spa soaking myself in hot mineral waters and the pain was gone. It came back here and there afterwards in some mild form but there was nothing I could do about it – just hope that it would be alright.
I arrived with my support crew (AKA the family ) in Chamonix the Saturday before the race. In the week leading up to the race me and my older son did one about 10km long easy run on the flat bit out of Chamonix (the opposite direction of the last bit of TDS course), one easy hike towards Plan de Praz and we also hiked up to Plan de l’Aiguille (followed by cable car ride up to L’Aiguille du Midi). That was all.
I will not deny I was very nervous ahead of UTMB. I survived CCC and TDS in previous two years but 100 miles in these mountains deserved some respect. I hoped for a good long sleep the night before but that did not happen. I slept very little and not very well. I planned to stay in the chalet and go nowhere on Friday but my final gear check in the afternoon revealed that my poles will not work – the locking mechanism was rusted. I tried to fix it but to no avail. No way I could do the race without poles so off to the town I was for new ones …
It was a bright and hot afternoon. I did not want to get to the start too early and spend too much time under the hot sun. I got there just after 5pm, about an hour before start. The area was already packed but I thought I managed to squeeze into a decent starting location. I took few photos from where I was standing and packed my phone into my backpack. I planned to fully focus on getting to the finish – there would be no more photos taken by me for the rest of the race.
UTMB 2016 – Start – My view
A year ago while looking up at Mt. Blanc from our chalet just before leaving Chamonix I more less decided to come back. What I did not want was to return and do the same race again. The 100 mile UTMB was still something I was not too sure about. And so I signed up for the 119km long TDS. Longer than CCC, shorter than UTMB – it seemed to be the ideal next step. For some yet unknown to me reasons the organizers ranked TDS as more difficult than UTMB.
TDS – Difficult
My preparations for this race started unofficially with the Translantau 100. Although I was far from fit for that race it was a good self assessment on a difficult course at the end of previous racing season. A six week break with very little running followed. Then from May 1st a preparation proper and booze free diet begun (all the training notes are filled under TDS tag). In general I followed a similar Tue-Thu-Sat-Sun training routine as a year ago with few changes:
a) I added few Wednesday track sessions early on into the training
b) I decided to alternate trail and road on my Tuesday runs to add some pace to my training
c) I stuck with my Thursday morning Mt. Parker routine but I shortened the overall distance of those runs by about 10km.
d) During my training after studying few TDS race reports and realizing what that “Difficult” rating meant I made an adjustment to my training plan – I focused more on climbing and descent rather than overall distance on my long Saturday runs.
After all the issues I had early this year I was lucky to have injury free preparation for TDS. However just about 2 weeks ahead of the race some strange feeling around the right knee appeared. There was no pain, it did not bother me at all while running but I felt something was weird. I could only hope that it won’t bother me during the race.
I can’t really recall when exactly I got the crazy idea to sign up for 100km race in the Alpine mountains. All I know is that sometime during the 2013/14 winter the idea crossed my mind. I had more than enough qualifying points from LT70 and MSIG Lantau50 for the CCC race. So I decided to try my luck in the UTMB lottery. I did not expect to be one of the lucky ones, it was more about improving my chances for the lucky draw for 2015 race.
Few weeks later the lottery results were out and I was in. And as I quickly found out so was quite a big group of other runners from Hong Kong.
I planned to take a bit of rest after the end of the winter season in HK and then start my training at the end of March. Unfortunately after managing to survive the entire racing season without any injury a pain in the hip area appeared out of nowhere during my rest weeks. Therefore the early stages of my CCC preparation were just some easy hikes and practice with poles. The pain was neither getting worse nor better during these hikes so I decided to suck it up and start running about 2 weeks later. It took few more months of running through the pain until it suddenly went away during or after a hot 40km training run in mid June. From then on I went full steam ahead with my training generally involving 2 early morning mid week 20+ km hilly runs, 1 long Saturday run and some follow up run on Sunday morning, roughly 80-90km per week on the trails of Hong Kong and pretty much nothing on the road. But no matter how hard (and slow) you train in the heat and humidity of Hong Kong summer nothing can even remotely simulate what awaits in the Alps (as we were to find out).
So finally after 5 months of training it was time to head to Europe. After spending few days in Slovakia I arrived in Chamonix late on Monday, the week of the race. I originally planned to hike the final part of the course from Vallorcine to Chamonix on Tuesday but the rainy weather cancelled that plan. With the benefit of hindsight I am really grateful for that…
Birds eye view of what we would need to cross at the end of the race